Fruitfulness on the Frontline 6; Messenger for the Gospel
The sermon started with this song by Emeli Sande, which you might like to watch.
Emeli Sandé sings: ‘You’ve got the words to change a nation but you’re biting your tongue,
You’ve spent a lifetime stuck in silence, afraid you’ll say something wrong.
If no one ever hears it, how we gonna learn your song….So come on…
I’m delighted to help conclude your Sunday series, Fruitfulness on the Frontline with the theme for today ‘Messenger of the Gospel’. As Emeli Sandé sings, ‘Now were finally finding our voices…so take a chance, so let’s help each other to sing this…Come on’.
The subtext in this whole Sunday series has been, ‘What if?
‘What if our words make a world of difference and God is in the smallest things we do’.
‘What if love changes everything and God has already been working ahead of us, and through us?’
So: what if Mission is – not a job we do, but God’s loving activity out there in the world…. And he just needs us to join in. What if?
So this morning, I’d like to look with you at the passage from 1 Peter.
Tell story about an encounter I had with a person ‘out there’ and about God being at work in her, revealing the love of Jesus in her heart.
Finish with a couple of surprisingly encouraging facts – as we learn to ‘sing our song’ – not just in the church, but in the world at large.
First, 1 Peter, this little letter written by a transformed man, St Peter.
The guy who was outpaced on the morning of the resurrection by his younger companion John, author of John’s gospel….
The guy whose burden of guilt at betraying Jesus was changed into deep gratitude – through the empty tomb and through the encounter afterwards on the beach – where Jesus three times invites him to confess – not his guilt, but his love – one time for each painful, guilty denial.
1 Peter 3.15 – 16:
‘But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.'
What is going on behind these words?
It is clear from the beginning of the Letter that there was actual or potential opposition or even persecution of these Christians who had been scattered around what we now call modern day Turkey. There was probably some semi-official, local opposition. But a lot of it was more like what we may face – personal resistance, misunderstanding or sometimes downright opposition or ridicule. Local and personal.
So Peter wants us to focus on our relationships with those who might want to dismiss us, or even silence us.
‘Instead of standing on our rights, let’s act in the opposite spirit – let’s bless, not curse.'
When people ask about the hope – when they are intrigued by our generosity, our kindness, our love, our compassion, our kindness – our tendency, we might say today, to live peace-fully in a frantic, competitive, unjust world such as this –
Then, Peter says speak. Respond. Give them an answer.
Always with gentleness and respect. No manipulation, or aggression, or dismissing people.
Always see past the issue, to the person…
Verse 14, ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ I wonder…do you think when he said that…. he’s hearing the accusing voices in the High Priest’s courtyard ‘You were with him….his threefold denial’?
That’s the memory. Now Peter is different. A transformed person. (‘Changed lives > Changing lives’)
That change started right there that night…Luke records the moment when Jesus turned and looked right at him…
So, (verse 18) Peter offers us the same vision of Christ as our motivation: ‘For Christ also suffered for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.’ Jesus, the source of our own forgiveness and our transformation.
‘In your hearts revere Christ as Lord (‘sanctify’) = Let Jesus be more important to you than – people’s opposition or attitudes.
‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone… a reason for the hope that you have – or ‘the hope that is in you’. (If you are revering Christ ‘in your hearts’ the hope is ‘in you’.)
‘An answer to everyone’ = informally, spontaneously, in general conversation
A few months before I left Whitstable and took up my new role…a met a lady called Tracey who was a homeless person in difficulty in Whitstable
Tracey was in the shelter at Reeves Beach along with 4 other rough sleepers and another man next to her who had a bike and a bit of an anti-God attitude. Tracey was the only woman there. We got into conversation, as I wanted to ask them what they thought of the churches' plan to offer rough sleeper support in Whitstable. After a bit I asked the question.
'Have you ever felt God was close to you, Tracey?'
'Yes, I have'.
'What was that like?'
'Heartwarming and depressing at the same time.'
She started to cry and looked embarrassed as people often do when they become upset, looking away; the bike guy on the bench comforted her. I said it was OK, our feelings do come out when God draws near.
After a bit: 'What did you make of that?'
'It gave me courage to speak out about something. Something that had been going on for two years.'
'Sounds like you were brave.'
'Since then I've always spoken out when things are not right.'
'You are a brave woman, Tracey'.
… I went back to check the words she had used:
'It was heartwarming, yes, and depressing. Because it brought all my feelings out.'
The she said, 'I can't get the right words to talk about it. A light went on in my head'. She said it has been there since.
'A light is in your head', I said. 'That light will always be there, Tracey.'
How did she know this?
‘I am the Light of the World…’ = John 8.12
Clearly her experience of God has changed her, she has become a person who speaks out. A transformed person.
This is the mission of God. Who is active out there drawing people to himself. Actually people on the outside sometimes know a whole lot more than we may think they do.
So let’s have confidence to ‘sing our song’. Gently and respectfully, yes – confidently, joyfully too….
In the matter of being confident, here’s the research I mentioned, commissioned in 2015 – 16 by the C of E, Talking Jesus:
It focused on non-Christians. Having spoken to a practising Christian
52% felt comfortable
23% non-Christians felt more positive about Jesus Christ
26% felt closer to that person
19%... open to an experience of Jesus Christ
How do you respond to that…?
If we live hopefully, gently and joyfully,
We will be asked about the hope we have.
If we listen well, and speak with ‘gentleness and respect’, God will use us.
We’re all wonderful, wonderful people. So when did we get so fearful?
Now were finally finding our voices…so take a chance, help, help me sing this….there’s no need to be afraid, I will sing with you my friend…
Let’s help each other find our voices, and be confident and joyful to sing the precious song of hope we have in Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In 1 Peter 3:14 we're told to be ready to give an account of the hope that lies within us. How would you describe, in your own words, that hope that lies within you?
How do you feel about sharing your faith with someone else? Have you ever done so? What happened?
In the sermon Steve suggests that God is already at work in peoples lives, long before we talk to them. Does that change the way you think about sharing your faith? If so, how? If not, can you say why not?
If asked to say why you are a Christian, what would you say?
What could you do to become more confident in sharing your faith?